Emotional Phelps makes historyAzad Majumder . London
Michael Phelps ensured his status as the greatest ever Olympian on Tuesday night in London when he swam the anchor leg of a demanding relay race to earn his 19th medal.
His win in the 4x200 metre freestyle relay for US also ended his unexpected gold drought that took his sleep away and added to suspicion if he will be able to overcome it ever.
Phelps came to London to defend his unprecedented eight gold medals he won in Beijing but two silver medals and a fourth-place finish in the earlier races left him heavily distressed.
Yet he showed the courage of swimming the final leg in the relay and must be thankful to his team-mates to give the team a sizable lead before he jumped into the pool to finish the race.
Despite his admission that many emotions were going on in his head, he kept his calm and finished as winners to pick up his first gold of the meet and race past the 18-medal haul of Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
Latynina held the record for decades with her haul – which included nine golds – from the Games at Melbourne (1956), Rome (1960) and Tokyo (1964).
‘The biggest thing I have always said is anything is possible,’ Phelps said later at the press conference. ‘I have put my mind on doing something that no-one else has done before. Being the first Michael Phelps it has been an amazing ride.’
Phelps was always expected to achieve the feat in London but it remained to be seen how he gets it. He drew level with Latynina when he won silver in the 200-metre butterfly earlier on the same night.
South Africa’s Chad Le Clos outraced him at the eleventh hour leaving Phelps still to wait for his first gold medal. Phelps’ gloomy face in the prize giving ceremony gave only an impression that he was not ready for the defeat in what was one of his most favourite events.
He won 200m butterfly both in Athens and Beijing and a success in London would have taken him to the level of Australia’s Dawn Fraser and Hungary’s Krisztina Egerszegi, the only other two swimmers to win an event in three consecutive Olympics.
‘I was a little frustrated. I tried to shut that out of my head,’ said Phelps, who had all the gloom written in his face during the prize giving ceremony.
He was touched by emotion again when the medals for 4x200 metres relay race were also handed. It touched him so much so that he could barely sing the national anthem.
‘I said to them [team-mates], “I am sorry boys I am not going to be singing this”. There were so many emotions going on. My eyes were getting watery,’ Phelps said.
It only exposed the human nature of a superhuman, who once had everything he touched turn into gold. Phelps, however, said he was always a human being and if anybody had still any doubts they were banished with his fun at the post-race press conference.
He took just three questions, spoke like an emotional kid who was just given his toy back after it was snatched away a few moments earlier. On his way back to the changing room from the conference hall he suddenly took the microphone again and asked Ricky (press attaché) if they had still anything to know.
It only revealed the other side of Phelps, who was made speechless an hour ago by an unheralded South African.
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